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How to Battle Insomnia and Improve Sleep Through Exercise

Sleep is vitally important for your health. Everyone knows that right? Your good ol’ mum has been banging on about it since you were a tiny tot. With a good night’s sleep under our belt we feel like we can take on the whole world!

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What fewer people realise however is just how good sleep actually is for our health?

The best way to illustrate this point is to give you a quick rundown of just some of the many conditions that are made worse when we don’t get enough of it.

Let’s start with the physical, chronic poor sleepers are at greater risk of catching viruses and infections, and they are more likely to become obese, develop diabetes, suffer from high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease and even heart attacks. Yikes!

Now, let’s move on to the mental impact of poor sleep, those who toss and turn every night are five times likely to be depressed and a whopping twenty times more likely to have a stress related condition. Don’t even get me started on suicide rates. The stats aren’t pretty.

So you can see, getting enough sleep is really, really important. But knowing that sleep is important and actually getting more of it are two very different things. Thanks to the fast-paced screen-heavy desk-based modern world we live in, sleep problems are affecting us all more and and more. Basically we are all going to bed overstimulated and undertired.

So what to do if you do suffer from insomnia and you’ve tried all the obvious fixes? You know, avoiding caffeine, turning off screens etc, etc. Get you sweatbands on that’s what!

Exercise has been proven to be a great help in the hunt for sleep. Read on below and I will get into the many benefits of a good daily sweat session…

Exercise vs Insomnia

A poll conducted in the States found that a whopping 83% of individuals surveyed reported sleeping much better on the days they exercised compared to days when they didn’t break a sweat at all. While this survey was conducted amongst ‘normal’ sleepers it does illustrate the power of exercise.

What however is the impact of exercise on diagnosed insomniacs? Well, in one experiment that followed a group of troubled sleepers it was found that after working out for just four months, the sleepyheads were getting on average 85 more minutes shuteye a night. For the chronically sleep-deprived that can amount to a life changing amount of extra rest.

It is also far better return on investment than any drug can deliver.  

Bradley Cardinal, Ph.D., the co-director of Sport and Exercise Psychology Laboratory at Oregon State University, explains the reason for exercise’s impact on sleep, stating “the functions of sleep are to conserve energy and to repair tissues in the body.” Meaning the more energy you burn during the day and the more breaking down of muscle fibres you do, the more your body will crave, nay demand, rest.

The best exercise for sleep

The good news is that any exercise will help your sleep. Going for a jog with the dog, chasing a squirrel in the park, zumba-ing your booty off to Beyonce, whatever you want, as long as you are getting sweaty and out-of-breath then you are doing your sleep wonders.

Some exercises have proven better than others however. Weight training in particular seems to do glorious things for sleep. It is believed the muscle fatigue combined with the huge increases in body heat that lifting weights generates can play a big role in helping an individual sleep more soundly.

In a fascinating piece of research conducted by the Appalachian State University, it was found that individuals who lifted early in the morning were able to fall asleep quicker, while people who hit the gym in the evening took longer to nod off but were more likely to sleep soundly throughout the night. Both groups slept much better than none lifters.

So, if getting to sleep is your big issue maybe pumping iron in the early hours could be the way to go. And if you find yourself waking frequently through the night, maybe you should skip Corrie tonight and lift a few weights instead.

Another exercise that has proven sleep-inducing benefits is yoga. Cracking out a few downward dogs before bed is a great because yoga’s focus on deep breathing means that while you’re tiring your body through stretching, you’re simultaneously lowering your heart rate and breathing speed. Two things that are guaranteed to get you in the mood for sleepy times.

The long and the short of it is, if you suffer from sleep problems, be it full-blown insomnia or simply a bit of trouble nodding off, getting your sweat on at least once a day can have nothing but a positive impact. Don’t believe me? Why not give it a go, what’s the worst that could happen…you lose some sleep!

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Owner of Personal Trainer, Father and fitness copy writer. Working hard making the world fitter and healthier!

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